Changes cause discord over school music program

Former School District #83 superintendent calls for independent review

The music program at School District #83 has struck a discordant note.

Former supervisor of music instruction Jim Howie and assistant director of instruction Carl Cooper have differing views about the school program that has produced many talented musicians, singers and actors over the years.

But Cooper says there is actually more music time this year.

“Have we reduced time? No, but there have been challenges,” he says, noting there is increased preparation time for teachers. “We actually have more music time.”

A shortage of learning resource assistants and music teachers was a challenge early in the school year.

“Two things happened at once; we added over 23 classrooms over the past two years and lost two retiring instructors,” he says.

Related: Salmon Arm music teacher Brian Pratt-Johnson honoured in special concert

Three schools were without full-time music instruction at the beginning of the year. While holding cross-Canada job searches, the school district hired a former, retired music teacher to work part-time.

“We just recently hired a person to put in at Carlin and Silver Creek, so we’re back to a full complement at those two schools,” Cooper says, noting that one of the teachers is close to finishing music qualifications at teachers’ college, so letters of permission had to be acquired from the college.

“The only place we’re not doing music as we always have, is South Canoe,” he says, noting SD#83 is providing prep time through other activities such as literacy intervention and reading programs and teachers are providing music instruction.

“That’s the only school that has changed; every other school is getting exactly what they were,” he says. “Providing music instruction at the high school level is built on student request and we have fully-functioning programs at all our high schools,” he adds.

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He admits changes at the administrative level have caused concern, specifically the elimination of the principal of music position.

“One of the catch-22s is you’re asked to reduce at the administrative level,” he says. “We no longer have a principal of music but we now have a qualified music teacher co-ordinator. Part of her job is to teach music and the other is to co-ordinate the music program.”

The main difference in roles is, she cannot hire or evaluate music teachers. Hiring will now be done by the school district’s human resources department and evaluations will be completed by individual school principals.

Following a bit of a “rocky start” with teachers frustrated by a delay in receiving instruments, Cooper says the transportation department take over the task that was previously assigned to the music principal. It is something he recognizes would have felt like a reduction in service.

And that’s exactly how Howie sees it.

“When I started as music supervisor in 2011, it was a full time position or 1.0 FTE (full time equivalents) as it had been in Gordon’s (Waters) later years,” notes Howie, pointing out he and former music supervisor, Waters, occasionally taught a class “off the side of the desk,” but the administrative position was full time.

Howie says in the 2015-16 budget year, the position was cut to .6 FTE and he was required to teach for the other .4 FTE.

“Needless to say, it was assumed that I would provide reduced services to the music staff and their students when that cut was implemented,” he says. “The recent change was to cut the administrative position entirely and replace it with a ‘teacher of special responsibility’ for music as .4 FTE of her assignment. That has resulted in a further reduction in service available to music staff and their students.”

Former SD#83 superintendent Doug Pearson says not gathering and having instruments rehabilitated at the end of the year and ready for September, is indeed a loss of service. As well, he questions the ability of principals without a musical background to properly evaluate a music teacher’s competence.

“It takes somebody with music knowledge to do that, and time,” he says, noting good music teachers are difficult to find. “The question is, do you value it (music program) enough? It’s all very fine to say, but let’s see if you value somebody’s ability in teaching music.”

An educator for more than 41 years, Pearson stresses the importance of a solid music program, noting he made sure prep time for elementary school music was always available.

Related: Drummer powers up to big stage

Pearson, who received a B.C. music award for his support of music in his role as an administrator, says music teaches things well beyond the realm of music – discipline and team work among them.

“Not every administrator can support the different approaches to balance what a teacher needs between musicianship and teaching,” he says, citing the vital importance of administrative support. “People who come to the position without the knowledge, experience and support don’t sometimes realize the value of a program.”

With a lack of a board of trustees since 2016, a number of structural and staffing changes in the school district over the past few years, including a new superintendent and a brand new board with only five trustees to serve a large area, Pearson suggests an independent review be completed.

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